Washington State’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has adopted emergency rules to address outdoor heat and smoke hazards throughout the summer of 2022.
Employers will be required to monitor temperature and air quality, take steps to protect workers from heat and smoke hazards and provide training and information from June 15 through the end of September.
The temporary rules were designed to help keep workers safe this summer while L&I continues to develop permanent heat and wildfire smoke hazards, as both California and Oregon have done within the past few years.
Outdoor heat emergency rule
The outdoor heat rule states that when temperatures are at or above 89 degrees, employers must:
- provide enough cool water for each employee to drink at least one quart per hour
- provide sufficient shade that’s large enough for, and close enough to, workers
- encourage and allow workers to take paid preventative cool-down breaks as needed, and
- require a 10-minute, paid cool-down break every two hours.
Existing rules already require “ready access to at least one quart of drinking water per worker per hour, an outdoor heat exposure safety program with training, and an appropriate response to workers who are experiencing heat-related illness symptoms.”
These requirements could kick in at lower temperatures depending on what type of clothing workers are wearing.
Employers can substitute other means of lowering body temperature for shade, such as by using an air-conditioned trailer or a misting station.
Temperatures must be monitored by employers and systems such as mandatory buddy rules or regular check-ins by phone or radio must also be used to catch signs of heat-related illness.
If a worker shows signs of illness, employers must relieve them from duty, provide shade or another method of cooling down and determine if medical attention is needed.
More information can be found on L&I’s Be Heat Smart webpage.
Wildfire smoke emergency rules
Wildfire smoke contains fine particles that can cause serious health issues because they can reach the deepest part of the lungs.
The emergency rule requires employers to monitor air quality and take action when outdoor workers are exposed to the smoke and the Air Quality Index (AQI) is at 101 or higher with some actions being required at an AQI of 69.
When workers show signs of injury or illness from wildfire smoke, they must be monitored to determine if medical care is needed and employers can’t prevent them from seeking medical treatment.
If the AQI is at 69 or higher, employers are encouraged to limit exposure to smoke by:
- reducing, rescheduling or relocating work
- providing respirators at no cost to the workers
- allowing workers to wear respirators if they choose
- providing enclosed buildings or vehicles where the air is filtered, and
- reducing the work intensity or increasing rest periods.
When the AQI is at 101 or higher, employers are required to limit exposure whenever feasible and must provide respirators for voluntary use, which is an increase in protection from the 2021 emergency rule.
If particulates from wildfire smoke are measured at 555 micrograms per cubic meter or higher, employees must be provided with and are required to wear more protective respirators. This is an extremely hazardous, but rare, condition that goes beyond the top of the AQI scale of 500.
Workers who are in sensitive groups, such as those with asthma or other lung conditions, may require action to be taken at even lower AQI levels.
More details can be found on L&I’s wildfire smoke webpage.
Permanent rules still being worked on
Employers are required to address wildfire smoke and outdoor heat exposure in their written accident prevention plans and must train workers on these hazards before they’re allowed to work in conditions of heat or wildfire smoke.
L&I is still working on permanent rules for both of these hazards and is continuing to work with stakeholders on draft language for those rules.